Fruit & Vegetable Growing Guide for December
Predicting winter weather is as hard as predicting summer weather in Britain, which makes it difficult to advise on jobs. We’re pretty sure to see some hard frosts but those dreaming of a white Christmas are more likely to see a white Easter.
Planning the Year Ahead
It might be miserable outside but having to sit by the fire with your feet up is an opportunity to plan what you’re going to grow next year. December and January are the traditional months for placing seed orders.
Sit down with seed catalogues, get out your gardening books and start planning your campaign for the year ahead.
You may have favourite varieties, but don’t be afraid to try new ones, compare their performance – and perhaps find new favourites!
Sowing & Planting in the Vegetable Plot
There’s not a lot you can plant out in December but if you’ve not got round to it, you can plant out garlic direct. They actually benefit from a period of cold, which prompts growth later.
Onions sown towards the end of the month will make excellent plants and bulbs, benefiting from the longer growing period. Sow them in seed boxes under cover or in the greenhouse if you have one. You can use cold frames if they can be kept frost free. Usually that involves keeping an eye on the weather forecast and insulating the frame with anything from newspapers to old carpet when temperatures fall. Remember too that cold frames can heat up to high levels in a little winter sun so particular attention must be given to ventilation.
It’s worth removing any yellowing leaves from your winter brassicas. Dead leaves are doing no good and encourage diseases such as botrytis. Wildlife will be on the lookout for food, especially pigeons, so keep vulnerable plants like brassicas netted.
General Garden Tasks
It’s a good time for repairing and renovating. There’s always something to do if you look hard enough! Don’t forget you’re not going to have time when the season is in full swing.
Perhaps turn the compost heap over and ensure compost bins are covered to prevent excess rain leaching the nutrients and to keep in some of the heat of decomposition.
Keep your plot fairly tidy to avoid providing winter homes for pests, but don’t be afraid of a little untidiness to provide shelter for predators .
Take hardwood cuttings from soft fruit. Gooseberries, red, white and black currants, worcesterberries, jostaberries and vines can all be propagated by inserting cuttings into the open ground. Choose sturdy well ripened shoots of this year’s growth cutting them just below a bud and trimming to just above a bud.
For black currants take cuttings about 8-10 inches (200-250 mm) long, 12-15 inches (300-380 mm) for the other fruits. Insert them into the soil to about half their length. It is customary to grow all except blackcurrants on a short stem – so remove the buds from the lower part of the cutting. All the buds should be left on blackcurrant cuttings.
It’s a good time to split rhubarb, dig up the old crowns and split from the top down with a spade into three or four. Leave on the surface so they get frosted before planting out in early Spring,
Check any ties and staking are secure for young trees or windrock can check growth or even kill the tree. You can plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes in December and prune apple and pear trees.
Cut down canes of autumn-fruiting raspberries which have finished fruiting and burn to prevent fungal diseases spreading.
There’s a surprising number of crops that can be available to harvest in December including winter brassicas such as Kale, cabbage and cauliflowers.
If you have Brussels sprouts start picking them from the base upwards, leaving the smaller ones at the top to develop.
Any remaining carrots should come out for storage in damp sand or peat in the shed. Parsnips and swedes can be lifted and stored the same way although they are very hardy and may be left if the ground is not needed. You can always cover them with fleece or straw to help stop the ground freezing them in.
Double check any vegetables in store and remove any that show signs of rot.